In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Giorgio Vasari

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Monographic Studies
  • Archival Sources
  • Additional Writings
  • Exhibition Catalogues
  • Conference Proceedings
  • Special Journal Issues
  • Drawings
  • Paintings
  • Architecture
  • Works for the Medici Court
  • Roman and Papal Commissions
  • Church Renovations
  • Vasari’s Homes
  • Vasari and Print Culture
  • Vasari and Art Collecting

Renaissance and Reformation Giorgio Vasari
Sally J. Cornelison
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 November 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 November 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0350


Giorgio Vasari (b. 1511–d. 1574) was an Italian painter, architect, poet, and biographer whose writings helped to shape the canon and discipline of Western European art history—to the point that often he is described as the first art historian. Born into an artisan family in Arezzo, Vasari received a humanist education and trained in Arezzo and Florence as a painter and goldsmith. He is best known as the author of the Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects (1st edition, 1550; 2nd edition, 1568), which he dedicated to Florence’s Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici. In this multivolume collection of artist biographies, Vasari presented the history of art and architecture as a progressive series of qualitative peaks and valleys and championed the art of his own time, especially that produced by artists and architects from his native region of Tuscany. Vasari himself was a prolific painter and architect whose patrons included popes, heads of state, leading intellects, and religious institutions. Among his most famous projects are the historical, allegorical, and mythological paintings he and his workshop executed for Cosimo I in Florence’s Palazzo della Signoria and the construction of the adjacent Uffizi to house municipal offices. In keeping with Catholic Reformation–era tastes, Vasari oversaw the renovation and redecoration of several medieval churches, including the Pieve in Arezzo and Santa Maria Novella and Santa Croce in Florence. In 1563 he helped to found the Florentine Accademia del Disegno, the first art academy. Vasari’s work also included painting ritual objects such as processional banners for local confraternities and devising ephemeral artistic schemes that included temporary decorations erected in honor of imperial visits, aristocratic weddings and baptisms, and the iconographical program for Michelangelo’s funeral of 1564. When Vasari died in Florence in 1574, he left incomplete the monumental Last Judgment he had begun to fresco in the cupola of Florence Cathedral. His remains were transported to Arezzo, where he was buried in the Pieve at the foot of a large, double-sided altar he made to serve as his family’s funerary chapel. Vasari’s life and works are amply documented in primary sources, including his own writings, and the secondary literature on his work is vast. The latter primarily concerns the Lives of the Artists and, although the amount of scholarship on his paintings and architecture has increased in recent years, much remains to be explored about those aspects of this exceptionally enterprising artist’s career.

General Overviews

The multitalented Vasari figures prominently in books that survey the history of Italian Renaissance art, but usually in a piecemeal fashion and mostly in terms of the ways in which his Lives of the Artists (Vasari 1550, Vasari 1568a, both cited under First and Second Editions) relates to the work of artists and architects other than Vasari himself. His literary and artistic output was so extensive, and, in the case of the Lives, so influential that bibliographies and overviews of Vasari’s career tend to be quite selective. Some online sources on Vasari should be consulted judiciously, bearing in mind that all have not been written or vetted by specialist scholars as the very reliable and relatively comprehensive “Vasari”, Carrara 2014, and Agosti 2020 have been. Renaissance, Interpretations of the: Giorgio Vasari is less concerned with Vasari’s artistic and architectural projects, as it focuses instead on his influential writings.

  • Agosti, Barbara. “Vasari, Giorgio.” In Valeriani–Verra. Vol. 98 of Dizionario biografico degli italiani. Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, 2020.

    Detailed but concise survey of Vasari’s life and works based primarily on Vasari’s autobiography in the second edition of his Lives of the Artists, correspondence, and Ricordanze.

  • Carrara, Eliana. “Vasari, Giorgio.” In Encyclopedia of Renaissance Philosophy. Edited by Marco Sgarbi, 1–13. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International, 2014.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-02848-4_107-1

    A brief abstract of Vasari’s life and career followed by a valuable bibliography of nearly one hundred sources by and about Vasari.

  • Kliemann, Julian, and Antonio Manno. “Vasari.” In Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Chronological and thematic overview of Vasari’s life and works. Excellent resource for undergraduates and scholars alike. Includes a bibliography of primarily Italian and English texts. Those without access to an institutional subscription should consult Kliemann’s nearly identical entry in The Dictionary of Art (New York: Grove, 1996), 32: 10–25.

  • “Renaissance, Interpretations of the: Giorgio Vasari.” In Encyclopedia of the Renaissance. Vol. 5. Edited by Paul F. Grendler. New York: Charles Scribner’s, 1999.

    Overview of Vasari’s life with a brief bibliography that, by virtue of its inclusion in an encyclopedia entry devoted to major interpreters of the Renaissance period, privileges his role a writer and theorist. A good basic resource for students.

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